American Views Abroad

Friday, August 18, 2006
The furor in the German media about Gunter Grass not admitting publicly that he was drafted into a Nazi elite troop at 17 is disconcerting to an outside looking in. His half hour interview on TV last evening showed a pensive Grass who could give no explanation for why he neglected to reveal this fact till now. However, he was perfectly honest when taken prisoner of war by the US in 1945. In the interview yesterday he related how he was lost from his unit in Russia and how an older, more experienced German soldier on seeing what kind of uniform he was wearing, gave him good advice about getting rid of that one. In the end, as Grass himself admitted, it saved his life. You couldn't help but come away with the impression he hadn't really understood what he got himself into.

In today's Suddeutsche Zeitung there is an interesting box on page 11 where the Grass incident is discussed in two other much longer articles. There under Schweigen und Reden (On Keeping Silent and Talking), Ivan Nagel, who was born in Budapest in 1931, reveals that just when Grass was being drafted in the summer of 1944, he, Jewish, was living under a false name in Hungry in eminent danger each day at being found out. Yet it took Nagel 55 years --- first in 1999 --- could he publicly talk about what he went through. He writes how, as a 14 year old in 1945, he simply had to push aside the horror he witnessed in order to stay on the living side of life. Life is not a reference book you can page through whenever you feel like it. It's not a completed manuscript.

One of my cousins was a fireman in NYC on 9/11. One thing he tells you right off --- don't ask me anything about it. I cannot and I will not talk about it. Period.

Perhaps before throwing stones at Grass, one should question if journalists and those in academic research, among others, had done enough of their own research and asked the right questions. At any rate, To Peel an Onion seems to be a book worth reading.

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